William Shakespeare was born in Stratford in 1564, was brought up and educated there and married a woman from the nearby hamlet of Shottery. Later he bought property in and around the town, including one of the largest houses, New Place. Following his death there, in 1616, he was buried in the parish church. Throughout his life, then, he remained in close touch with his native town, even though, at the height of his career, much of his time was spent in London. The Stratford he knew was certainly very different from today's - in size, smell, noise and general atmosphere. But in one respect it was the same, for Stratford, by the standards of the time, was busy, just as it is now, an essential feature of any successful town. At the same time, it was a period of great change. The townscape was transformed during his lifetime as a result of three disastrous fires; there were near-famine conditions at the end of the century, reducing a third of the population to poverty; plague and other devastating epidemics were a constant threat; and religious differences could flare into physical violence.
The population of Shakespeare's Stratford can only be roughly estimated, but in 1600 was certainly no more than 2,500 and was probably less. It was, however, growing around this time - from a figure perhaps as low as 1,600 in 1550 - due mainly to a drift from the countryside to the town, with all the problems this brought. Today some settlements with populations of over 2,000 still pass as villages. In 1600, such a population was evidence of an important market town.
The shape of the Elizabethan town was, and still is, based on a grid pattern of streets laid out when Stratford was founded around 1200. The focal point was the present-day Wood Street/Bridge Street axis, along the line of the main road through the town. Much of this had originally been left as open space as a site for the town's market, but by Shakespeare's time, large sections had been filled in, including a row of buildings up the centre of Bridge Street. At the west end of Wood Street, then near the edge of the town, was another open space, which still survives, where the cattle market was held. Branching off from Bridge Street to the north west was a busy thoroughfare, Henley Street, where Shakespeare's father, John, set himself up as a glovemaker in the 1550s (in the house now preserved as Shakespeare's Birthplace), again on an important route out of town. High Street, to the south of the main road, was a main shopping area. Beyond that, in Sheep Street and Chapel Street, the atmosphere was quieter, and minor streets, like Ely Street, Scholars Lane and Waterside, were, for the most part, either undeveloped or lined with barns. Beyond that again were orchards and paddocks and then the open countryside.
The parish church of Holy Trinity stood (and still stands) somewhat apart from the town, marking the site of the original village. This had been left undisturbed when the new town had been laid out alongside it, but by Shakespeare's day had dwindled to a few large houses occupied by the town's leading gentry. The church itself had been rebuilt and added to over the years, reaching its full extent only fifty years or so before Shakespeare was born.
Fairs and Markets
In Shakespeare's time, the state of the roads meant that travel at more than walking pace, even for those fortunate to own a horse and cart, was rarely possible. Most country dwellers wishing to exchange their farm produce for items they could not make for themselves depended almost entirely on towns within a radius of five miles or so. As a result, places like Stratford, with populations which we would now regard as very small, had fairs and a weekly market and a whole range of shops and small businesses. Some dealt in food but there were also tailors, shoemakers, glovemakers (including Shakespeare's father), wheelwrights, carpenters, blacksmiths, tinsmiths and many more. Others, like vintners, mercers and drapers, dealt in goods brought into the town from more distant parts. On Thursday, market day, the town would have been exceptionally busy, with the main streets thronged with buyers and sellers. Some of the streets were named after the particular market held in them, Sheep Street, for example, and Rother Street (after the Old English word for cattle), or Corn Street (now Chapel Street) and Swine Street (now Ely Street). Shakespeare's grandfathers, Richard Shakespeare and Robert Arden, from the nearby villages of Snitterfield and Wilmcote, would have been typical of the many country-dwellers making their way to Stratford on market day.
Stratford was particularly well-placed to serve as a market centre, at an important crossing of the River Avon where several routes converged. The Avon also marked a division between contrasting regions, the open Feldon to the south, largely given over to the growing of crops, and the more wooded area, the Arden, to the north, where cattle farming was more common. Stratford's market was thus an obvious place for the exchange of the different types of produce from these two regions. In the 1490s, a wealthy Stratford townsman, Hugh Clopton, had made sure the routes to the south remained passable throughout the year by paying for the construction of the fine stone bridge that still spans the river.
Industry as we know it did not exist, but Stratford was famous for its malting - the roasting and grinding of grain, usually barley, for use in brewing. This was best carried out as near as possible to where the crops grew, as untreated grain was bulky and expensive to transport. The cereal-growing areas to the south of Stratford were particularly productive, hence the growth of the industry in the town: in one contemporary document Stratford is cited as 'one of the chieffest towns in England for malt-making'.
In 1553, Stratford was granted a Charter of Incorporation. This created a form of town council (the Corporation), made up of fourteen aldermen and fourteen chief burgesses, headed by a High Bailiff. They were given various properties in the town formerly belonging to the Guild of the Holy Cross. This was a medieval religious foundation which, until its abolition at the time of the Reformation, had also provided a school for the sons of its members and almshouses for the sick and infirm. These responsibilities passed, with the Guild property, to the new Corporation, together with the duties of paying the vicar's salary and maintaining the bridge. In this way the Corporation came to administer the grammar school, still standing in Church Street, where Shakespeare is believed to have received his education. The Corporation also made bye-laws to control the markets within the town and to prevent nuisances, with powers to fine people who broke them. The Corporation was not elected: the first aldermen were named in the charter, and they were given the job of nominating the chief burgesses. New members were chosen in the same way whenever vacancies occurred. Its membership came quickly to be made up of the principal tradesmen in the town, including Shakespeare's father, who was nominated to join the Corporation in 1557, rising to serve as High Bailiff in the year 1568/9.
The Corporation was not the only body laying down rules and regulations about how the townspeople should behave. There was also an entirely separate church court, under the bishop, which investigated matters which today we should find surprising; not only, for example, failure to attend church, and the maintenance of the church fabric, but sorcery, libel, drunkenness, sexual offences, the licensing of physicians, surgeons and schoolmasters, and the making of wills. In Stratford, this was of particular significance: for two out of every three years, it was, by ancient right, the vicar of Stratford, not the bishop and his officials, who presided over this court.
This was also a time of religious upheaval. The English Reformation may have begun simply with the idea of securing independence from Rome, but it unleashed a flood of new ideas; and by the end of the century, Stratford, like all other communities, was beset by religious division. At one extreme were those who clung to the old Catholic faith and who were fined for it (including, it is believed, Shakespeare's father). They were also accused of treason whenever a national conspiracy was uncovered. At the other extreme were the Puritan reformers who wished to do away with bishops altogether and who saw the church courts as a means of carrying the Reformation into every aspect of people's lives, especially their sexual and social behaviour. But many others preferred to avoid taking up these conflicting positions. It is true that, in order to make its Protestant position clear, the Corporation ordered the defacement of the wall paintings in the Guild Chapel in 1564. Moreover, in 1602 and 1612, it passed bye-laws to restrict the activities of travelling players, and in 1605, much anti-Catholic fervour erupted when it was discovered that one of the Gunpowder Plotters had been living at nearby Clopton House. On the other hand, the demands of Puritan extremists, who sought to use the law to regulate private morals, eventually proved too much for the Corporation, leading, in the 1620s and '30s, to a serious quarrel with the vicar.
Elizabethans were well aware of the need for personal cleanliness but concentrations of people in towns presented problems. Water supplies, mainly wells and streams, could become contaminated, and the lack of a proper system to remove human and animal waste was a particularly acute problem at a time when livestock markets were held in the street and cattle slaughtered on the spot. The Corporation did what it could to tackle these problems: 'muckhills' were set up in locations where they were least likely to cause offence, and fines imposed on those who failed to use them: indeed, Shakespeare's father was one of these, fined in 1552 for making a muckheap near his house in Henley Street instead of using the authorised one at the out-of-town end of the street. Butchers were ordered not to throw their 'garbages' out into the street, but to carry them out of the town to 'some convenient place', and pigs left by their owners to roam the streets were impounded. Nevertheless, outbreaks of disease were common, with particularly serious results for children. In the 1560s, the decade when Shakespeare was born, only one in three children was likely to survive into adulthood. Shakespeare's own son, Hamnet, died at the age of eleven. Adults were also at risk from epidemics. The year 1558 was one of high mortality, with influenza apparently the cause. Far more devastating was an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1564, the year of Shakespeare's birth, which carried away around 15 per cent of the population, including entire households. An epidemic of a different type struck in 1597, second only in severity to that in the plague year. Its precise nature is unknown but it was linked to the disastrous weather conditions of the period 1594-97, when heavy summer rains destroyed the harvests, leaving the poor malnourished and prone to infectious disease.
This shortage of food in the 1590s led to serious riots in many large towns and protests in smaller ones, including Stratford. One measure the authorities took was to try to restrict the activities of the maltsters who were thought to be wasting what little grain there was in the production of beer rather than bread. Others were simply accused of hoarding grain and malt in an attempt to profit out of steeply-rising prices. In Stratford, this resulted in the 'Noate of corn and malt' of 1597 featuring Shakespeare's name (he was now the owner of New Place in Chapel Street) and those of some seventy-four other leading townsmen, some of whom were clearly in possession of more grain than they needed merely to feed their families.
Serious fires in 1594 and 1595 made this bad situation worse. At a time when fire-fighting equipment was virtually non-existent and buildings constructed of timber and thatch, town fires were a constant hazard. However, to suffer two in successive years, destroying at least 120 houses (perhaps as much as a quarter of the housing stock), at a time when the town was already experiencing general hardship, was particularly serious. The outbreak was blamed on shoddy backland development which had grown up to house the migrant poor who had drifted in. In petitions to the government, the Corporation talked of 700 paupers in the town, at least a third of the population. This is reflected in the soaring death rate in 1596 and 1597, and in the regulations, harsh to us but then commonplace in times of hardship, brought in by the Corporation in an effort to deal with the problem of the poor.
Vagrants were denied entry to the town, and newcomers driven out. Townspeople sheltering 'strangers and inmates' were fined and 'tippling houses' more closely regulated. The situation did not really improve for the rest of Shakespeare's lifetime: there was another serious epidemic in 1608, probably smallpox, a fire in 1614, and in 1616, the year of Shakespeare's death, a further outbreak of disease, probably typhus, the 'new fever' which Shakespeare's son-in-law, Dr John Hall, noted in his casebook the following year. On the other hand, there is no evidence that the town went into serious economic decline.
Many of Stratford's fine timber-framed buildings, including the richly-decorated Harvard House in High Street, date from immediately after the fires of 1594/95, telling evidence of the wealth of the town's leading tradesmen.
Some accounts of Shakespeare's Stratford have been distorted by sentimental notions of a vanishing 'Merry England'. The problem with a more realistic approach is that we may just see conditions as primitive. Compared with today, of course, things were very different but they changed little over the next 250 years, until a rapidly rising population, by the middle of the nineteenth century, meant that more radical measures at last had to be taken to ensure clean water and to prevent devastating epidemics. Even then there were complaints about the cost, just as there are today whenever new civic schemes are proposed. In Stratford, as elsewhere, there has rarely been agreement over the exact point at which the consequences of doing nothing outweigh the cost of improvements; and such improvements have rarely been willingly undertaken unless the commercial well-being of the town has been under serious threat.
Further information about Stratford-upon-Avon in Shakespeare's time may be found in the following books and articles:
Bearman, Robert, ed., The History of an English Borough, Stratford-upon-Avon 1196-1996 (Stroud: Sutton for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, 1997)
Brinkworth, E.C., Shakespeare and the Bawdy Court of Stratford (Chichester: Phillimore, 1972)
Jones, Jeanne, Family Life in Shakespeare's England: Stratford-upon-Avon 1570-1630 (Stroud: Sutton for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, 1996)
Martin, J.M., 'A Warwickshire Market Town in Adversity: Stratford-upon-Avon in the 16th and 17th Centuries', Midland History, 7 (1982), 26-41
Porter, Stephen, 'Fires in Stratford-upon-Avon in the 16th and 17th Centuries', Warwickshire History, 3 (1976), 97-106
Stratford-upon-Avon Corporation, Minutes and Accounts of the Corporation of Stratford-upon- Avon, 1553-1598, 5 vols (Oxford: Dugdale Society, 1921-9; Hertford: Dugdale Society, 1990)
TARLA KUŞUYDU JULIET
Shakespeare' in yüzyıllardır insanları gözyaşına boğan karakterleri Romeo ve Juliet, Ephraim Kishon' un yeni kurgusunda günlük yaşantı ve çığırından çıkmış bir evlilik içinde ele alınıyor. İntiharın eşiğinden döndükten sonra evlenip bir de çocuk sahibi olan "kıdemli aşıklar" kimsenin öngöremediği bir hayatı sürdürürler. Bu dünyanın yaratıcısı Shakespeare mezarında ters döner ve olaylara müdahale etmek üzere eve gelir.
Engin Alkan'ın rejisiyle Romeo ve Juliet öyküsüne farklı bir yerden baktıran ve çağdaş bir "klasik" olarak İ.B.B. Şehir Tiyatroları repertuarında yerini alan oyunda, öten tarla kuşu muydu bülbül müydü sorusunun cevapsızlığı altına “aşk nasıl bu hale gelir”in cevabı aranıyor.
Pişirilen yemeklerin buharlarının canlı icra edilen notalarla kaynaştığı iki saatlik şölende, tariflere uygun yapılmaya kalkıldığında hep tadı kaçmış, alışveriş listelerinde unutulmuş, akşam yemeği telaşı arasında kaynamış ve sonunda dibi tutmuş “efsane aşk” ın tüm zamanlarda, tüm tanıdıklığıyla “ille de var” lığı hatırlatılıyor.